Sinn Fein dis­pute rum­bles on fol­low­ing coun­cil­lors’ ap­peal

COUN­CIL­LORS JOHN SNELL, GERRY O’NEILL AND OLIVER O’BRIEN ARE STRIPPED OF PARTY WHIP AFTER LOS­ING THEIR AP­PEAL, BUT ONE HASN’T HEARD FROM THE PARTY, WRITES MYLES BUCHANAN

Bray People - - NEWS -

CLLR JOHN Snell has yet to re­ceive any for­mal no­ti­fi­ca­tion that he is no longer part of the Sinn Fein group sit­ting on Wick­low County Coun­cil.

Mean­while, Coun­cil­lors Gerry O’Neill and Oliver O’Brien, who have re­ceived no­ti­fi­ca­tion by email, in­sist that they won’t be re­sign­ing their coun­cil seats.

The Sinn Fein Ard Comhairle has re­jected an ap­peal by the three coun­cil­lors against a de­ci­sion to with­draw the whip. How­ever, Cllr Snell has yet to be no­ti­fied, de­spite a re­port in lo­cal me­dia to the con­trary.

‘I haven’t been no­ti­fied so I think it is dis­ap­point­ing that Deputy John Brady would go to a free pa­per to say the Ard Comhairle had in­formed me that I was no longer a mem­ber of the Sinn Fein group in the coun­cil,’ said Cllr Snell.

‘My two col­leagues re­ceived cor­re­spon­dence and my hear­ing was based on the same prin­ci­ples raised by coun­cil­lors within Sinn Fein and the party. I am sur­prised that I wasn’t con­tacted by email, phone or in per­son, and that he would go to a lo­cal me­dia source with­out pick­ing up the phone or speak­ing to me in per­son first. I would like to know where he got this in­for­ma­tion from.’

The three coun­cil­lors are at log­ger­heads with Deputy John Brady. The dis­pute arose after Cllr Ni­cola Law­less was made the party leader in the coun­cil, de­spite Cllr John Snell hav­ing a seat on the coun­cil for far longer.

Cllr Snell said he was ‘dis­ap­pointed’ by leaks to the press, in­clud­ing re­ports in Jan­uary that he hadn’t re­newed his party mem­ber­ship.

‘It was very sur­pris­ing be­cause I had un­til the end of Fe­bru­ary to re­new my mem­ber­ship, as is stan­dard. That seems a clear breach of data pro­tec­tion laws and has more se­ri­ous con­se­quences for the party na­tion­ally, as well as lo­cally.’

Cllr Snell said he felt great sad­ness at wit­ness­ing the way the three coun­cil­lors have been treated since los­ing the party whip in Fe­bru­ary, which led to the ap­peal.

‘I worked to build up Sinn Fein within County Wick­low. I have been a mem­ber of Wick­low County Coun­cil for over eight years. At the start my­self and John Brady were the only Sinn Fein coun­cil­lors sit­ting on the coun­cil. It was with great joy we man­aged to achieve six seats at the last lo­cal elec­tions.

‘In­deed, I was heart­ened to re­ceive so much over­all sup­port in east Wick­low, but it was also great to see col­leagues elected in every district. It was a mile­stone, not just for Wick­low, but for Sinn Fein na­tion­ally.

‘ There­fore it is with deep sad­ness that I am wit­ness­ing the de­cline of the struc­tures of Sinn Fein within Wick­low. I would urge the party at na­tional level to be­come more pro-ac­tive in get­ting to the bot­tom of prob­lems that are per­ceived as ad­ding to the demise of the party in the Gar­den County.’

It is also claimed that Deputy Brady is in­ter­fer­ing too much with coun­cil ac­tiv­i­ties.

Cllr Snell said: ‘When my­self and Deputy Brady were coun­cil­lors to­gether from 2009 to 2014, while we pur­sued na­tional poli­cies when fit, such as prop­erty tax and wa­ter charges, it was al­ways a given that coun­cil­lors would be left alone to do the work of county coun­cil­lors in their own con­stituen­cies.

‘Un­for­tu­nately, since the last Gen­eral Elec­tion, it would ap­pear there is a re­luc­tance to al­low Coun­cil­lors do the work of the county coun­cil. There is a level of in­ter­fer­ence. I think this is widely ac­cepted within Sinn Fein na­tion­ally as some­thing which shouldn’t hap­pen, but in Wick­low is still per­sists.’

Deputy Brady had been quoted stat­ing that the out­come of the dis­pute was ‘ un­for­tu­nate’ but that ‘party rules’ had to be abided by.

How­ever, Cllr Snell said: ‘When you sign up to be a mem­ber of any po­lit­i­cal party there are al­ways rules and reg­u­la­tions to abide by. I ac­cept that but Cllrs Mary McDon­ald and Ni­cola Law­less were not known to grass roots mem­bers in Wick­low at the time of the last elec­tions.’

Cllr Gerry O’Neill joined Sinn Fein in 1974 in the old Kevin Street of­fice and feels too much con­trol is be­ing ex­erted on lo­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

He said: ‘I am bit­terly dis­ap­pointed at the level of con­trol we have to ad­here to of late and it seems to me that it’s get­ting to the point where the lead­er­ship in the county should maybe con­sider putting ro­bots in the coun­cil cham­ber in­stead of hu­man be­ings.

‘On the is­sue of toe­ing the party line and obey­ing the county lead­er­ship, it is al­most un­bear­able at times, with no lee­way al­lowed. For ex­am­ple, there was a re­cent Sinn Fein mo­tion pro­posed by Cllr Ni­cola Law­less that there be a 400 me­tre re­stric­tion be­tween fast food out­lets and schools. I could not sup­port this as it would mean the clo­sure of restau­rants, chip shops and maybe pubs and would be im­pos­si­ble to im­ple­ment in small ru­ral ar­eas.

‘On the is­sue of re­sign­ing my seat, I have ab­so­lutely no in­ten­tion of do­ing so. I was elected by the peo­ple of south and west Wick­low and, un­til they deem oth­er­wise, I will not be go­ing away.

‘ The use of the whip in the county is ex­treme and un­called for. In lo­cal au­thor­i­ties through­out the coun­try, mem­bers from other po­lit­i­cal par­ties of­ten dis­agree with their party col­leagues on is­sues, es­pe­cially on the ru­ral-ur­ban di­vide. It’s ironic that the whip, which is an old Bri­tish way of con­trol through­out the cen­turies, should be used to such an ex­tent by Sinn Fein in this day and age.’

Cllr Oliver O’Brien claims that no con­sul­ta­tion took place be­fore the ap­point­ment of Cllr Law­less as party leader in the coun­cil.

‘Se­nior mem­bers like John Snell and Gerry O’Neill were over­looked. Cllr Snell has been in the coun­cil cham­ber for a long time.

‘It could have been han­dled so much bet­ter.’

In June, the three Sinn Fein coun­cil­lors ab­stained from the vote to sup­port Sinn Fein Coun­cil­lor Michael O’Con­nor’s nom­i­na­tion for Chair­man of Wick­low County Coun­cil and Cllr Ni­cola Law­less as Deputy Chair­per­son.

Cllr O’Con­nor was co-opted onto the coun­cil after Deputy Brady’s elec­tion as a TD.

‘I couldn’t vote for some­one as cathaoir­leach who had been co-opted onto the coun­cil rather than get­ting elected. I would feel the same way about any party mem­ber, Sinn Fein or oth­er­wise, if they were co-opted,’ added Cllr O’Brien.

He too main­tains that he won’t be re­sign­ing his seat.

‘I still con­sider my­self a mem­ber of Sinn Fein. I would have no prob­lem giv­ing up my seat if I had done some­thing wrong, but I haven’t.’

Deputy Brady is re­luc­tant to get in­volved in a ‘ he said, she said’ sce­nario but re­mains adamant that the po­si­tion adopted by the Sinn Féin Ard Comhairle, which is the na­tional lead­er­ship of Sinn Féin, to re­move the whip from the three coun­cil­lors is fully en­dorsed by the Wick­low Sinn Féin Of­fi­cer Board.

He said: ‘None of the eight Sinn Féin Cu­mainn in Co Wick­low, all of whom were rep­re­sented, raised any con­cerns with the out­come of the ap­peal. In ac­tual fact, Gerry O’Neill’s di­rec­tor of elec­tions in west Wick­low for the last 20 years is fully sup­port­ive of the Ard Comhairle out­come.

‘ The party in Wick­low is go­ing from strength to strength. Sinn Féin aims to have a strong co­he­sive team on the coun­cil. We be­lieve this gives you the best op­por­tu­nity to make the most progress at coun­cil level. Any­one fol­low­ing news re­port will see that has not been the case in the last num­ber of years. Long be­fore Ni­cola Law­less was leader of the group, some of the coun­cil group have been vot­ing against party pol­icy for some time now, and go­ing against na­tional party pol­icy, such as sup­port­ing the Mar­riage Equal­ity Ref­er­en­dum, which was a ba­sic equal­ity mea­sure.

‘At coun­cil level, we have very ba­sic guide­lines for coun­cil­lors. Take con­fer­ences for ex­am­ple. Any Sinn Féin coun­cil­lor at­tend­ing con­fer­ences must in­form the party group leader, write up a short re­port on the ben­e­fits or oth­er­wise of the con­fer­ence and feed it in to the coun­cil group and then to the full coun­cil. Now that hadn’t been hap­pen­ing as far back 2011 or ’12.

‘ This, as public rep­re­sen­ta­tives, keeps us on our toes.

Ul­ti­mately, Deputy Brady said, that the re­moval of the whip arose be­cause of the ac­tions of the three coun­cil­lors.

‘While it is un­for­tu­nate it has come to this, we are where we are. The process has now con­cluded and Gerry O’Neill, Oliver O’Brien and John Snell are now in­de­pen­dent coun­cil­lors within Wick­low County Coun­cil.

‘I wish all three well in what­ever path they choose. The three lads were close col­leagues of mine. I have per­sonal friend­ships with some of the lads dat­ing back to the early ’90s. I would have avoided this at all costs but un­for­tu­nately the lads chose dif­fer­ent.’

Deputy Brady is also in­sis­tent that the cor­rect pro­ce­dures were fol­lowed when Coun­cil­lors Ni­cola Law­less and Mary McDon­ald ini­tially ran dur­ing the last lo­cal elec­tions.

‘Cllr Law­less and McDon­ald both joined the party in ad­vance of the lo­cal elec­tion in 2014 and both were ap­proved to stand by the Sinn Féin Ard Comhairle. In fact, Cllr Snell also had to un­dergo the same process him­self in 2009 when he first agreed to stand for the party as he hadn’t joined the party up un­til that point,’ said Deputy Brady.

A state­ment from Sinn Fein said: ‘Coun­cil­lors John Snell, Gerry O’Neill and Oliver O’Brien have been work­ing out­side of the Sinn Féin group on Wick­low coun­cil for some time now and they refuse to take di­rec­tion from the party.

‘ The party made every ef­fort re­solve the mat­ter, in­clud­ing grant­ing them an ap­peal. That ap­peal has now con­cluded and the whip re­mains re­moved from th­ese coun­cil­lors. The three coun­cil­lors are no longer con­sid­ered Sinn Féin Coun­cil­lors as they are no longer un­der the party whip. We have no fur­ther com­ment to make on the mat­ter.’

Cllr Oliver O’Brien.

Deputy John Brady.

Cllr John Snell.

Cllr Gerry O’Neill.

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